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As with “The Crucifixion” Mural I painted half a year earlier, Mother Mary nurtured a path for creating the St. Dominic’s Mural—through that path a new dimension of Her maternal character was revealed to me and with it came a fuller awareness of the nature of my vocation as a Catholic Artist. Events in my personal life at the time brought valleys and peaks to my faith and emotions. This undulation imprinted itself into the painting’s composition. The Holy Spirit breathed into me a theme of the unconditional presence of Jesus through His Mother amid the fluctuating circumstances of life. The arching ‘M’ shaped clouds in the painting were a symbol that resounded and deepened in my heart as paint-layers amassed, signifying the protective and guiding embrace of Our Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I focused on illustrating the Saints wrapped in Her mantle, She was gently stirring my soul to realize I am among them, receiving the same gift of Her love, being lead ever closer to Her Son, Jesus.
Throughout history the Saints have stood on soft or rough patches of earth in situations of good or ill but in the company of She whose soul does magnify the Light of the World (Magnificat)—the mural’s design began with that Light radiating from the bosom of the Virgin. I penciled the humble St. Juan Diego knelt before Our Lady of Guadalupe and reflected on God the Father’s presence symbolized by rays of sun, and Her womb glowing, pregnant with the child Jesus.
In Grand Rapids each day ripe with lessons unfolded before me with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I was lead in how I should spend my time and how I should pray. I was lead in all my choices. Grand Rapids brought growth in character. At times I was given the great gift of a little dryness in which to stand on my own two feet and to carry out my duties and prayers with good will. Jesus is always with me as He promised (Matthew 28:20), but “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6) and “For in fire gold is tested,
and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation” (Sirach 2:5). I was gifted with opportunities to be good even when nobody was watching, to demonstrate integrity always, and to transform negativity. When loneliness came and I felt isolated, I cried in prayer and Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows embraced me and brought me to remember the Passion of Jesus.
Transversely through that suffering I began to learn that a deep privilege of my vocation as a Catholic Artist is to nurture the creation of the painting as Mary nurtures me. In previous blog posts I touch on my discovery about my work in being a vessel for the Holy Spirit to work through. Now I realize more deeply that what I go through, what fills the vessel of me: the emotions, ideas, and experiences in my life during the time I am creating a work of Sacred art are all meaningful and allow me to fill the artwork with that meaning. I am to walk with the suffering and walk with the joy, because as I paint layer by layer the substance of the inspirations is imbued into my art. A mother cannot merely stand beside her child when it suffers. She feels the suffering and walks with it, and through that maternal love the child heals and grows. What is meaningful is personal, and Meaning itself is a person: Jesus Christ.
Mary carries Meaning in Her womb. Our Lady of Guadalupe is pregnant with the child, Jesus. In my painting I want Him to be the source of light along with the sun—that light radiates through the composition to touch each Saint in his or her life and in their suffering. It is my hope that the viewer, wherever he or she may see the painting, will recognize in the Saints a glimpse of his or her own life with all its trials and joys; and by recognizing that communion, realize the love and mercy of Jesus radiating through His mother Mary, extending through the Saints, empowering the Church to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who alone is the way to the Father.
Watch Painting Process videos, Artist Talks, and the blessing of the St. Dominic's Mural by Monsenor Diego Monroy Ponce and Bishop Walkowiak on the John McCoy Art YouTube Channel
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I'm traveling back up to Grand Rapids in a week to create a new mural painting for St. Dominic's Catholic Parish near the town of Wyoming, GR. Seven Saints, among them Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Teresa of Calcutta, will be depicted in the sanctuary space near to the Blessed Sacrament. This marks the second commission in Grand Rapids, the first being the "One in the Body of Christ" mural for All Saints Academy's Middle School campus.
The Saints chosen will represent the diversity of our Catholic faith and the multiplicity of stories and talents in the Body of Christ. The size of the mural will be determined on site, but it will be larger than the 5x12' All Saints Academy mural. Grace and the seeds of inspiration are present in me, given by the Holy Spirit, though what He will lead me to paint is still somewhat a mystery.
Even now, before praying my daily Rosary, I ask the Lord for direction and I trust in Jesus and the providence of the Father. I am a home body and traveling to a distant city to play my unique role as an Apostle of Beauty is a cross like a darkened log with rose gold embers glowing within; there is deep joy in the unfolding and flowering of the painting and the life I live while making it. All of the interactions and friendships I build, all of the prayers in solitude are meaningful and are integral to the painting process. They are fuel for the journey and for the painting, which is fhe fruit of the journey.
The painting process will be documented with time-lapse videos on theJohn McCoy Art YouTube Channel
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I’m working in Alpena, Michigan for All Saints Parish on a 10 x 20’ Mural depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus entitled “The Crucifixion”. My design is an altar piece adorning the tabernacle and center of the sanctuary of St. Anne Catholic Church of All Saints Parish. My work “Communion of Saints”, created in 2016, surrounds the altar piece with 62 Saints in Adoration.
“The Crucifixion” is a portrayal of abandonment to the Father’s will, focusing on Jesus’ gaze toward the Father during His passion. The Saints look to Jesus and Jesus looks to the Father. The painting follows Jesus’ words from Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. Details in the design relate visually to the tabernacle and point respectfully to the Eucharistic presence. The work is scheduled to be blessed and dedicated by Most Reverend Steven Raica, Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord on June 1st, 2018.
“We must learn to see Him. If we know Him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible."
-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Stay tuned for painting process videos and project updates on the
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Most Reverend David Walkowiak, Bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids blessed the finished 5x12’ mural entitled “One in the Body of Christ” on April 13th after 8:30AM Mass at St. Jude’s, adjacent to All Saints Academy’s Middle School campus where the work will be installed (the Diocese published a blog post with photos of the blessing: http://catholicschools4u.org/all-saints-academy-unveils..)
“One in the Body of Christ” depicts the namesakes of the four founding parishes of All Saints Academy: with the Blessed Sacrament centrally placed, and Saints Jude, Isidore, and Alphonsus adoring on the left and right. A depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Perpetual Help is compositionally seated at the left side of the Eucharistic Presence, corresponding to the position of the infant Jesus in the original Byzantine icon, and analogous to her position at Jesus’ right side during the Crucifixion. This particular image of Mary was chosen for its significance to the local Parish of St. Alphonsus, where the icon is specially venerated by the Redemptorists Congregation of the Catholic Church. Eight other Saints are depicted in Adoration on the left and right, with an overall equal presence of male and female Saints from all centuries of the Church’s history. Each Saint was chosen by All Saints Academy as dedicated exemplars of ASA’s Vision as a Catholic School under the categories of Faith, Learning, Loving, and Serving. Aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary and founding Parish Saints, these exemplary Saints are depicted left to right in historical chronology:
St. Cecilia - Music and the Arts
St. Sebastian - Military and Athletics
St. Albert the Great - Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)
St. Joan of Arc - Defense of the Faith
St. Juan Diego - American Evangelization
St. Kateri Tekakwitha - Stewardship of Nature
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton - Catholic Education
St. Teresa of Calcutta - Charitable Service
I drove up to Grand Rapids, Michigan to begin my project on February 26th. The vibrancy of the educational environment at All Saints Academy that I came to know during the course of the project was met by my first impressions visiting the Middle School campus. I spent the first week setting up a studio space for the painting and getting to know the staff and students of ASA. I toured the 4 founding Parishes before heading back for a week to attend a Baptism and Retreat in Cincinnati. During that time I felt the Holy Spirit’s guiding presence as I fleshed out a digital design for the mural. In the following two weeks, in Grand Rapids, a strong movement of inspiration allowed me to finish the design, assemble the canvas, and begin painting. I spent the remainder of the Season of Lent climbing uphill in the painting process. After Holy Week and Easter in Cincinnati I returned to work in Grand Rapids with a grace-filled momentum until the completion of the mural on April 12th.
In retrospect what has struck me most was a quiet moment with the painting at the close of the project. Looking at the painting, I felt like a vessel. The painting was the work of God and I was merely the instrument He used. Earlier in my career I understood this more as an idea, but this time it was vivid and tangible. I’m humbled by this. Feelings of inadequacy and awe simultaneously arise in me when I come face to face with the realization that God is working through me, and I know this is the way it will be with all my future projects.
Watch time-lapse painting process videos of the ASA mural.
Stay tuned for the next painting project.
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I’ll be working in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a mural for All Saints Academy, a Catholic Middle School. I’m super excited! I will begin work next week. The timing of this job within the season of Lent, I believe, will place me in a position of spiritual observation, where God will work in me in a special way. I feel God constantly swaps my positioning in life so that I remain an observer. A disposition of observation toward what God chooses to place before me will keep me vigilant to the Holy Spirit, keeping things fresh and allowing the Spirit to work. God knows everything about me and my unique set of character qualities; with infinite specificity He knows what I need and when I need it in order for me to be the best version of myself.
I believe God will be both helping me to accomplish good works (a mural painting for one) and preparing me for the plans He has in store for me after Grand Rapids. I estimate the project to take approximately 6 weeks, and I’ll be making a few return trips interspersed within that time frame. The painting will be 4x10’, with incorporation of the namesakes of the four local parishes which founded All Saints Academy: Blessed Sacrament, St. Alphonsus, St. Isidore, and St. Jude. I will of course be documenting the painting process with videos on YouTube and Facebook and will keep everyone posted about the progress.
I always look at big projects like this as a gift from God and as a purposeful part of His plans. I’m grateful to All Saints Academy for giving me the opportunity to create this artwork and to stay within the faith community. As with the “Communion of Saints” commission in Alpena, Michigan, I believe the Holy Spirit works through the fellowship that develops while living and working within a faith community in a new place. I look forward to the good things God has in store in Grand Rapids, even though I will miss friends and family back home for a while.
Stay tuned for more updates on Facebook and YouTube!
A Reflection:
Consider the analogy present within this phrase: Life as God’s work of art
My life is a painting. The same techniques and process of layers of paint and the slow ascent toward completion parallels life’s course, and it is especially apparent to me in most of my conversations with God (prayer). There’s always a phase during each painting process where I’m a little unsure of what the next step is, or how it will all come together. During these times I have faith because of all my past experiences when I recognized God’s hand helping me bring paintings to completion. During these times my faith in painting and my faith in life bleed through to the same page in my soul, and there is beauty in that.
The uncertainty during the mid stage of a painting feels similar to the uncertainty of my 20’s, and the same God works in the microcosm of my creations and the grandeur of His own. My life is a masterpiece He is working on, and though their is suffering in the process, I can rest in gratitude for the gift of sharing in His creativity.
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